It is about time. But can you trust the Japanese government to do the right thing?
This sounds scary.
IMHO the world nuclear industry needs to either say this situation is under control and "don't worry Japan's got this" or work together and take action. This could be a big problem for Asia not only Japan. From what they say Chernobyl was a much worse accident but this crap is washing into the Pacific and Chernobyl is far from the ocean (Black Sea).
Japan Stepping In to Help Clean Up Atomic Plant
TOKYO — First, a rat gnawed through exposed wiring, setting off a scramble to end yet another blackout of vital cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Then, hastily built pits for a flood of contaminated water sprang leaks themselves. Now, a new rush of radioactive water has breached a barrier built to stop it, allowing heavily contaminated water to spill daily into the Pacific.
As the scope of the latest crisis became clearer on Wednesday, Japan’s popular prime minister, Shinzo Abe, ordered his government to intervene in the cleanup of the plant — taking a more direct role than any government since the triple meltdowns in 2011 qualified Fukushima as the world’s second worst nuclear disaster.
Mr. Abe, a staunch defender of the country’s nuclear program, appears to have calculated that he needed to intervene to rebuild public trust and salvage a pillar of his economic revival plan: the restarting of many idled nuclear plants. That trust has been eroded not only by the original catastrophe, but also by two and a half years of sometimes embarrassing missteps by the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, and what many Japanese see as the company’s continuing attempts to mislead the public and cover up continuing troubles at the plant.
“This is not an issue we can let Tepco take complete responsibility of,” Mr. Abe told a group of cabinet ministers gathered to discuss the water problem that has swiftly emerged as the biggest challenge at the plant and that appears to be slowly spiraling out of control. “We must deal with this at the national level.”
But taking a bigger role in a vast and unprecedented cleanup may also be a political gamble for Mr. Abe, especially if the government proves as unable as Tepco to contain the unending leaks of radioactive materials from the devastated plant.
Many analysts said Mr. Abe’s move was an admission that previous governments had erred by entrusting the 40-year, $11 billion cleanup to the same company that many blame for allowing the catastrophe to happen in the first place. Tepco’s leadership has been particularly worrisome, critics say, since it remains enmeshed in the collusive ties between the government and the industry that many say made the plant vulnerable.
Tepco had clung to the chance to lead the cleanup as an opportunity to redeem itself and regain its position as a leading member of Japan’s corporate community. But critics say it has continued to lose credibility by repeatedly underplaying dangers at the plant, following a pattern set in the early days of the disaster when it hid information about the extent of the damage and frequently bungled its response. The company balked at adding seawater to the reactors even as their cores became dangerously hot, for fear of ruining them for good, and officials did not acknowledge for two months that three reactors had suffered meltdowns.
In the latest instance involving groundwater troubles, Tepco’s own advisory group of foreign experts criticized the company’s late admission, with one saying it “brings into question whether Tepco has a plan and is doing all it can to protect the environment and the people.” Although the advisers said Tepco was doing a good job cleaning up, other experts and some regulators have questioned the company’s ability to handle the highly complex decommissioning of reactors.
“This is an admission by the government that Tepco has mismanaged the cleanup and misinformed the public,” said Eiichi Yamaguchi, a professor of science and technology policy at Doshisha University in Kyoto. “The government has no choice but to end two years of Tepco obfuscating the actual condition of the plant.”
The groundwater problems at the plant started soon after the disaster, when Tepco realized that tons of water flowing from the mountains and toward the sea were pouring into the contaminated reactor buildings, filling their basements with water that had to be pumped out. But the company was slow to come up with longer-term solutions, like digging wells to draw out the water before it reached the buildings. Then, in May, Tepco realized it had a new problem, with contaminants apparently leaking from a maze of conduits near the wrecked reactors causing a spike in radiation levels in groundwater elsewhere in the plant.
It began to build an underground “wall” created by injected hardening chemicals into the soil — even as it denied there was a threat to the ocean — but the barrier created a dam and water pooled behind it eventually began to flow over. On Wednesday, government officials said they believed 300 tons, or 75,000 gallons, of the tainted water was entering the ocean daily.
The amounts of some radioactive materials, like cancer-causing strontium, flowing into the ocean are above safety limits, but experts say that given the size of the plant’s previous releases, the new ones are relatively minor.
Some experts suggested Wednesday that the government’s intervention may be the first step in attempts to win public acceptance for what they say is an increasing inevitability: the dumping into the ocean of some of the less contaminated of the huge amount of water being stored in hulking tanks that are overwhelming the plant. At a news conference last week, Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, seemed to lay the groundwork, saying that eventually “it will be necessary to discharge water,” a possible solution likely to raise concerns not only in Japan but in other Pacific Rim countries.
Whether the government intervention will help remedy the groundwater issue is an open question, Mr. Yamaguchi and others said. The government’s expanded role will probably be led by the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry, or METI, which has been criticized as having close ties to Tepco and the rest of the nuclear industry which it nurtured since before Japan’s first commercial reactor went online in the 1960s. Other aspects of the Fukushima plant’s decommissioning have also been dominated by other members of Japan’s collusive “nuclear village,” as the close-knit industry is called, including reactor makers and politically connected large construction companies.
Experts have long worried that the government erred early on by refusing to bring in Japanese and foreign companies in leading roles, including American companies with experience in nuclear cleanups from Three Mile Island.
Experts like Mr. Yamaguchi said the only way to increase transparency at the plant was to bring in true outsiders.
It was also not clear how intensively the government would actually get involved in the cleanup, or whether it would allow Tepco to remain in charge. Mr. Abe did not give specifics beyond directing his ministers to help resolve the water problem, which he said was causing public anxiety. On Wednesday, local news reports quoted unidentified officials in METI as saying that Tokyo would likely help pay for a $400 million wall of ice that is being planned to surround the damaged reactor buildings.
Some top officials hinted that Wednesday’s move amounted to little more than an effort to provide public money to assist Tepco. Others suggested that the government might seek to take the lead in at least certain aspects of the cleanup, like the technologically challenging ice wall.
“There is no precedent in the world to create a water-shielding wall with frozen soil on such a large scale,” said the government’s top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.
Indeed, the proposed ice wall is seen here as a symbol of both the daunting technological challenges posed by the cleanup, and the need — critics say desperation — for creative solutions as the plant, which already stores enough contaminated water to fill 160 Olympic-size swimming pools, is faced with having to store hundreds of more tons every day.
The plan calls for freezing the soil around the reactor buildings to keep out groundwater before it can become contaminated. The wall would run nearly a mile in length and reach almost 100 feet into the ground. Officials said no wall of ice on such a scale has ever been attempted before, and was thus beyond the capacities of Tepco alone to pull off.
But even as Tepco — and now the government — place a bet on the ambitious plans for the wall, experts have begun to raise concerns, including that the wall will need to be consistently cooled using electricity at a plant vulnerable to power failures. The original disaster was brought on by an earthquake and tsunami that knocked out electricity.
It is about time. But can you trust the Japanese government to do the right thing?
Nuclear Operator Raises Alarm on Crisis
TOKYO — The operator of Japan’s tsunami-hit nuclear power plant sounded the alarm on the gravity of the deepening crisis of containment at the coastal site on Friday, saying that there are more than 200,000 tons of radioactive water in makeshift tanks vulnerable to leaks, with no reliable way to check on them or anywhere to transfer the water.
The latest disclosures add to a long list of recent accidents, leaks and breakdowns that have underscored grave vulnerabilities at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant site more than two years after a powerful earthquake and tsunami set off meltdowns at three reactors.
They come two weeks after the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, promised that his government would take a more active role in the site’s cleanup, raising questions over how seriously he has taken that pledge. Mr. Abe’s government has continued to push for a restart of the country’s nuclear power program, and he heads to the Middle East on Saturday to promote Japanese exports to the region, including nuclear technology.
Mr. Abe also plans to lead Tokyo’s delegation to Argentina for the International Olympic Committee’s final vote, set for Sept. 7, on the host city for the 2020 Olympics. Tokyo, 150 miles south of the stricken nuclear power plant, is one of three finalists competing to host the games. The others are Istanbul and Madrid.
Opposition lawmakers here have demanded that Mr. Abe stay home and declare a state of emergency.
“The nuclear crisis is real and ongoing, yet the government continues to look the other way,” said Yoshiko Kira of the opposition Japan Communist Party, which made significant gains in parliamentary elections last month.
“The government should declare a state of emergency right now, and intervene to stop the outflow of contaminated water,” Ms. Kira said at an anti-nuclear rally outside Mr. Abe’s office in Tokyo.
Mr. Abe remains popular, and it is uncertain how large a liability the crisis at the Fukushima plant will become for him.
But it has become increasingly clear that the latest problems may be too large for the plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, to handle.
Tepco has built nearly 1,000 tanks at the sprawling complex to store as many as 335,000 tons of contaminated water, the product of coolant pumped into the reactors to keep their cores from overheating, and groundwater pouring into their breached basements at a rate of 400 tons a day. This week, Tepco said one tank had sprung a huge leak.
On Friday, Tepco presented an even starker view of the situation, acknowledging that as much as 220,000 tons of that water is stored in makeshift steel tanks similar to the one that is leaking. The operator said the 36-foot-tall cylindrical tanks, meant as a temporary repository for the growing amount of radiated water at the complex, used vulnerable rubber sealing and that their ability to withstand radiation was not tested.
The tanks are susceptible to leaks at the seams and through their concrete base, said Noriyuki Imaizumi, the acting general manager of Tepco’s nuclear power division. A nearby drain can carry any leaked water to the sea, Mr. Imaizumi said, and high radiation readings along a section suggest that water has already traveled through the drain to the ocean.
The makeshift tanks also lack water level gauges, making it difficult to detect leaks. Only two workers are assigned to checking nearly 1,000 tanks on two-hour patrols twice a day, Mr. Imaizumi said.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority, which the Japanese government ordered to more actively advise and monitor Tepco’s activities at the plant, had told the company to begin transferring the water from the makeshift tanks to better-built vessels. But after visiting the plant on Friday, an authority commissioner, Toyoshi Fuketa, said the vast quantities made doing so quickly “unrealistic.”
A series of pits Tepco dug to store some of the water also began leaking earlier this year, forcing workers to transfer the water into the steel tanks.
Experts have said they suspect that more contaminated water is seeping out from under the melted-down reactors into the groundwater and the Pacific. Elevated levels of radioactive cesium in surrounding waters seem to confirm those suspicions.
Tepco has said those leaks are not directly from beneath the reactors, but from maintenance tunnels that run along the coast and remain contaminated from the early days of the disaster.
But it also acknowledges that the water beneath the reactors is extremely contaminated, and experts say that if it does get into the ocean, it will surpass even the leaks that occurred in the disaster’s early days.
“That prospect scares me,” Michio Aoyama, a senior scientist in the Oceanography and Geochemistry Research Department at the government-affiliated Meteorological Research Institute, said in an interview this month.
“It’s the ultimate, worst-case scenario,” Professor Aoyama said.
A version of this article appears in print on August 24, 2013, on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: Nuclear Operator Raises Alarm on Crisis.
If i recall the water in most of those tanks has so little contamination that dumping it all into the ocean wouldn't noticeable affect anything. Perhaps I'm wrong, I'm not going to go find the numbers. I suspect that if the tanks were highly contaminated, we'd be hearing more specifics in these articles.
Japan nuclear agency upgrades Fukushima alert level
Japan's nuclear agency has upgraded the severity level of a radioactive water leak at the Fukushima plant from one to three on an international scale.
Highly radioactive water was found to be leaking from a storage tank into the ground at the plant on Monday.
It was first classified as a level one incident on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (Ines).
But Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority proposes elevating it to level three on the seven-point scale.
Japanese reports say it is a provisional move that had to be confirmed with the IAEA, the UN's nuclear agency.
This week is the first time that Japan has declared an event on the Ines scale since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The move was announced in a document on the agency's website and was subsequently approved at a weekly meeting of the regulatory body.
Shares of plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) fell as much as 13% to 537 yen as investors worried about the impact of the development.
The March 2011 tsunami knocked out cooling systems to the reactors at the plant, three of which melted down.
Water is now being pumped in to cool the reactors but this means that a large amount of contaminated water has to be stored on site.
There have been leaks of water in the past but this one is being seen as the most serious to date, because of the volume - 300 tonnes of radioactive water, according to Tepco - and high levels of radioactivity in the water.
Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) said it feared the disaster was "in some respects" beyond Tepco's ability to cope.
"We should assume that what has happened once could happen again, and prepare for more," watchdog chairman Shunichi Tanaka told a news conference. "We are in a situation where there is no time to waste."
He said Tepco had failed to spot the leak for days - maybe weeks - despite patrols that are supposed to check each storage tank twice every day. Workers had also left a tap open in the safety barrier that surrounds the base of the leaking storage tank.
That had allowed highly toxic water to trickle away into the ground. Latest reports from the plant suggest some of it may already have reached the nearby Pacific Ocean.
The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Tokyo says it all adds to the impression that the clean-up operation is riddled with complacency and incompetence.
A puddle of the contaminated water was emitting 100 millisieverts an hour of radiation, Kyodo news agency said earlier this week.
Masayuki Ono, general manager of Tepco, told Reuters news agency: "One hundred millisieverts per hour is equivalent to the limit for accumulated exposure over five years for nuclear workers; so it can be said that we found a radiation level strong enough to give someone a five-year dose of radiation within one hour."
Teams of workers at the plant have surrounded the leaking tank with sandbags and have been attempting to suck up large puddles of radioactive water.
But our correspondent says it is a difficult and dangerous job. The water is so radioactive that teams must be constantly rotated and it is clear that most of the toxic water has already disappeared into the ground.
Under the Ines, events have seven categories starting with Level 0 ("without safety significance") and Levels 1-3 denoting "incidents" while Levels 4-7 denote "accidents".
The triple meltdown at Fukushima two years ago was classed as a level 7 incident, one of only two nuclear events ever rated that highly - along with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union.
Last edited by Buster; 08-29-2013 at 12:16 AM.
Wow. This sounds bad.
Radiation Near Japanese Plant’s Tanks Suggests New Leaks
TOKYO — A crisis over contaminated water at Japan’s stricken nuclear plant worsened on Saturday when the plant’s operator said it had detected high radiation levels near storage tanks, a finding that raised the possibility of additional leaks.
The operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, said it had found the high levels of radiation at four separate spots on the ground, near some of the hundreds of tanks used to store toxic water produced by makeshift efforts to cool the Fukushima Daiichi plant’s three damaged reactors. The highest reading was 1,800 millisieverts per hour, or enough to give a lethal dose in about four hours, Tepco said.
The contaminated spots were found as Tepco employees checked the integrity of the tanks after a leak two weeks ago released 300 tons of toxic water into the Pacific. That leak prompted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to announce that the government would step in at the plant, which was crippled two years ago by a huge earthquake and tsunami, to help get it under control amid rising public fears of a second environmental disaster.
Saturday’s discoveries suggested that there may have been other leaks from the tanks, many of which appear to have been shoddily built as Tepco has scrambled to find enough storage space for the contaminated water being produced by the plant. However, Tepco said that it had found no evidence of fallen water levels in nearby tanks, making it unclear how much water, if any, may have leaked out, and whether any reached the Pacific, about 1,500 feet away.
About 430,000 tons of contaminated water, or enough to fill 170 Olympic-size pools, are stored in rows of tanks at the plant, which appears to be running out of open space to put them all. The contaminated water increases by 400 tons every day as groundwater flows into the basements of the damaged buildings housing the three ruined reactors, which melted down in the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
Tepco must draw off that water to prevent it from overwhelming jury-rigged cooling systems that keep the reactors’ melted cores from reheating and melting into the ground in a phenomenon known as the China syndrome. Tepco has struggled to safely handle and store all the water.
Who wants to go to Tokyo!?!
BUENOS AIRES — Tokyo was selected Saturday to host the 2020 Summer Olympics in what was considered a safe rather than transformative choice in a time of political and economic uncertainty around the globe.
After Japan’s prime minister gave an emphatic assurance of safety regarding the country’s 2011 nuclear disaster and continuing concerns about radioactivity, Tokyo easily defeated Istanbul and Madrid to be named host of the Summer Games for a second time.
“When I heard the name Tokyo, I was so touched, overwhelmed,” said Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister. “The joy was even greater than when I won my own election.”
The decision was met with elation in Japan, where it was seen as a vote of international support for the nation’s efforts to pull itself out of a long economic and political decline and to overcome the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident two years ago.
Winning the Games also appeared to affirm Abe’s efforts to restore Japan’s confidence at a time when it has appeared increasingly eclipsed by neighboring China.
“Japan has seemed to be overshadowed by the rise of China and other developing nations,” said Harumi Arima, an independent political analyst. “These Olympics will give Japanese a chance to feel reborn, to feel for themselves that Japan can still be vibrant.”
For the International Olympic Committee, environmental concerns in Japan appeared less urgent than the Syrian war on Turkey’s border, a harsh crackdown against antigovernment protesters recently in Istanbul and Spain’s economic recession and high unemployment.
The Olympic movement has also been buffeted by protests in Brazil over heavy government spending for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, to be held in Rio de Janeiro. And there has been criticism of what the West considers antigay legislation passed in Russia ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort city Sochi, a Games that will come with a $50 billion price tag.
Amid such economic, political and human rights maelstroms, Tokyo was seen as a calm harbor. It won handily over Istanbul in the second round of voting, 60-36, in a secret ballot of Olympic delegates.
Tokyo presented its bid as a “safe pair of hands,” an appeal that clearly resonated with Olympic officials.
“This is something that appeals to me as a surgeon,” said Jacques Rogge, the president of the Olympic committee and a retired orthopedist from Belgium, who did not vote Saturday, as is tradition.
Tokyo hosted the 1964 Summer Olympics, and Japan has twice hosted the Winter Games, in Sapporo in 1972 and in Nagano in 1998. Japan also hosted the 2002 World Cup with South Korea and has repeatedly shown it can organize the world’s largest sporting events. It has a reserve fund worth $4.5 billion to build stadiums for the 2020 Games.
“The members wanted to have a choice between a bid addressing tradition and stability and another bid that was addressing new projects,” said Thomas Bach, an I.O.C. delegate from Germany who is expected to succeed Rogge as president. “In today’s political and economic situation, the clear tendency was toward tradition and stability.”
Kevan Gosper, an I.O.C. delegate from Australia, said Tokyo represented “a pretty secure option and demonstrates a shift in world activity and economics and sport toward Asia,” a reference to the 2008 Summer Games, held in Beijing, and the 2018 Winter Games, which will take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Prince Albert, an I.O.C. delegate from Monaco, said Saturday’s result also might have represented a strategy by the Olympic committee, which is Eurocentric, to vote for an Asian host with an eye toward returning the Summer Games to Europe in 2024.
Richard W. Pound, an I.O.C. member from Montreal, said he would not rule out the chances of the United States, which is expected to bid on the 2024 Games and has not hosted a Summer Olympics since the 1996 Games in Atlanta. The United States Olympic Committee and the I.O.C. recently settled a feud over sharing rights to television and sponsorship fees.
“If we are in kiss-and-make-up with the U.S., then why not?” Pound said of the potential American chances.
Although Istanbul, the Turkish metropolis, did better than many expected in finishing second to Tokyo, it lost a fifth attempt to host the Games. They would have been the first held in a predominantly Muslim country.
Some I.O.C. delegates had expressed reluctance trying to forecast Turkey’s political situation seven years from now, given regional instability, what some critics in the country call the autocratic governing style of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and a divide between secularists and Islamists.
Madrid was considered to be making a late charge, but ultimately it was the first city eliminated, failing for a third consecutive time to be named an Olympic host.
Apparently, Madrid was unable to allay concerns by the Olympic committee that it could stage a successful Games, even at a relatively low cost, in a climate of recession and high unemployment that has left half of Spain’s youths without jobs.
During Saturday’s final pitches to the Olympic committee, both Madrid and Istanbul faced pointed questions about their countries’ poor records in combating doping. Tokyo noted that no Japanese athlete had ever tested positive for banned substances at the Olympics.
As Tokyo made its final presentation, Abe, Japan’s prime minister, addressed the issue of the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, which is about 155 miles from Tokyo. The nuclear disaster there is considered the worst since Chernobyl’s in 1986, and problems have plagued the cleanup and control efforts.
“Let me assure you that the situation is under control,” Abe said. “It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo.”
Gerhard Heiberg, an I.O.C. delegate from Norway, asked Abe how he could make such guarantees. Abe replied that there were no health-related problems related to the nuclear disaster, “nor will there be in the future.”
The Japanese government has pledged nearly $500 million to try to stabilize the nuclear plant, including the building of a frozen wall to curb the flow of groundwater into the contaminated buildings at the reactor site.
Some critics have accused Japanese leaders of being misleading or in denial about the severity of the radiation problem. South Korea, for instance, has banned fish imports from the Fukushima area. But Olympic delegates were sufficiently convinced that the nuclear disaster would not hinder the 2020 Games.
“A lot of folks have been reading in the media that hundreds of tons of radioactive water are being fed into the Pacific every day,” Pound said.
Abe seemed to be saying, “I’m satisfied on that so that nothing will happen,” according to Pound, who added, “If there’s another earthquake or something like that, that’s not something you can blame the prime minister for.”
Some analysts said they hoped winning the 2020 Olympics would give Tokyo the same sort of economic boost, and rebirth in spirit, that the city experienced the last time it hosted the Summer Games, in 1964.
Those Olympics are still vividly remembered as proclaiming the success of Japan’s recovery from the ashes of World War II and launching the modern city of highways and bullet trains.
Shusei Tanaka, a political scientist at Fukuyama University, said that Tokyo would get not only an expected economic boost of $30 billion in new growth, but also a chance to reinvent itself in the 21st century.
“I feel like I did during the last Olympics, when I was still a university student,” Tanaka, 72, said. “Why am I so excited this time? I think it’s the natural disaster. We have a chance to build a new economy, hopefully without nuclear power, and to build a new urban lifestyle.”
Jeré Longman reported from Buenos Aires and Martin Fackler from Tokyo. Reporting was contributed by Hiroko Tabuchi and Joshua Hunt from Tokyo, Raphael Minder from Madrid and Ceylan Yeginsu from Istanbul